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School funding blow up as union accuses Andrews of shortchanging students
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The public school teachers’ union has accused the Andrews government of cutting funding to state schools amid a teaching crisis that is causing havoc in classrooms.
Despite an increase in overall expenditure, high inflation and student population growth have combined to deliver state schools an effective funding cut this year, according to a state budget analysis by the Australian Education Union (AEU).
State school students will suffer an effective 2.7 per cent cut to funding in this week’s state budget, Australian Education Union analysis has found.Credit: Ben Symons
The union argues that students in the public system are being denied a high-quality education.
But the Andrews government defended its record on public education, arguing it had invested $27.1 billion since coming to power and increased recurrent expenditure by more than any other state or territory.
The state budget includes a 5.8 per cent increase in total school funding in 2023-24 to $14.03 billion. State schools will get $12.66 billion of that, while the remainder will go to Catholic and independent schools.
But once the budget’s 7 per cent inflation rate and a projected 1.65 per cent increase in enrolment this year is factored in, the public system faces an effective 2.7 per cent funding cut, the union’s analysis shows.
AEU Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said this budget would ensure the staff shortages that had been causing disruption in many schools this year would continue.
“Public schools in Victoria should be moving closer to the target of being fully funded to 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard,” Peace said.
“Instead, they are being deprived of the necessary funding and resources that ensure every student has access to the high-quality education they need to thrive.”
Non-government schools in Victoria have this year been given 100 per cent of the public funding they are entitled to under the Gonski school funding formula agreed to by states and the Commonwealth more than 10 years ago. State schools sit just above 90 per cent – about $1 billion short of the Gonski target.
Minister for Education Natalie Hutchins denied there had been a funding cut to schools.
“The AEU’s analysis of school funding in the budget does not factor in contingency funding for programs and initiatives that will be announced ahead of the 2024 school calendar year,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins said the government would continue to grow its investments in public schools.
State schools have been losing market share to independent schools in recent years. They enrolled 63.6 per cent of Victorian students last year, their lowest proportion since 2017.
University of Melbourne education policy expert Associate Professor Glenn Savage said funding inequities in the Victorian school system meant parents were implicitly being told to send their children to private schools.
“With the situation we have at the moment, we essentially have state governments saying to parents, ‘If your child goes to a private school, they deserve 100 per cent funding, and if they go to a public school, they don’t’,” Savage said.
On current projections, Victorian government schools will reach 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard by 2028. There is no path to full funding under the agreement, which expires late next year. Victoria has said it wants the Commonwealth to pay for the 5 per cent gap.
Savage said that in a climate where state governments were struggling to increase funding to the public school system, a 2.7 per cent shortfall could be significant.
“It really depends on how the money is or isn’t being effectively utilised by schools,” he said.
Under the school funding formula, state governments are responsible for 80 per cent of funding for government schools and 20 per cent funding for non-government schools. Those responsibilities are reversed in the non-government system, for which the Commonwealth funds 80 per cent.
The agreement will be reviewed before it expires.
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said on Thursday that he wanted to see government schools fully funded as soon as possible.
“We need to fix that funding gap and we’ve made a commitment to close that funding gap, working with states and territories,” he told the ABC.
Clare said he was determined to see funding flow to the most disadvantaged students first.
“I’m serious when I say I want to make sure that we’ve got the funding right, investing in the sorts of things that are going to help children to catch up, and that we provide that funding and those resources to the schools that need them the most.”
The Andrews government has also targeted “high-fee” non-government schools to help pay down the state’s $31.5 billion COVID-19 debt.
About 110 schools will lose their long-held exemption to payroll tax – which Premier Daniel Andrews characterised as a “sweetheart taxation deal” – from July 1 next year. The change will raise a forecast $422.2 million over three years.
Non-government schools have reacted with alarm, warning it will force them to raise fees and cut educational programs.
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